I snorted. "Why?" Not that I knew anything at all about Curves, except that it seemed excessively pink and sorta frumpy overall.
"Because I wasn't happy."
Oh. That's a good answer. I can be a jerk sometimes.
My sister had lent me a girdle, but it wasn't going to work. I'd never seen a girdle before, nor did I realize that they were still being made and used. They're like a pair of high-waisted panties with a line of hooks and eyes on the front, to harness in your wayward jiggly parts. I tried it on with the dress, and while my shape was improved, I had visible girdle lines. So much for my something borrowed.
I asked my niece what that flesh-colored full-body stocking she had been wearing around the hotel room as we had our hair done before her wedding. She said it was Spanx, you could get it at Target, and it cost $30 or more. I sighed to realize that I was going to be spending more on undergarments than I'd spent on my wedding dress.
"I like your new shoes."
"You noticed. $5 on clearance at Target."
"When did you go to Target?"
"Today after work. I need special underthings for the wedding."
"Not that kind. It's called 'shapewear.' I didn't buy any. Shopping for it was discouraging."
"You don't need that stuff. Just take a long walk."
"A really long walk. I'd be back just in time for the wedding."
I walk into Curves and want to run out again immediately, my introvert flight-or-flight system kicking in. It's chaotic and very small, like the size of a small shop in a suburban strip mall, which it is. Around the perimeter are a dozen white exercise machines, all occupied. In between each pair of machines are women in workout gear, mimicking the moves of an enthusiastic Zumba instructor in the center of the room, though some of them are just flailing. The chatter was upbeat, as was the music. I stand awkwardly outside the circle until a lady carrying a baby comes forward from the back to sign me up for my orientation. She tells me that it's a great time to join up, because the activation fee is waived on account of October being Breast Cancer month. I do not ask whether I need to have breast cancer to get the discount, just in case the answer is yes.
"I have an appointment tomorrow morning at 7:30."
Pause. "That's ambitious. Good!"
"I was afraid to tell you. I thought you were going to tell me that it was a waste of money when I can take a long walk for free."
"There's a motivation factor in paying money for a gym membership. You feel like you have to use it since you already paid for it."
"Yeah." Sometimes I forget that other people are not jerks like me.
I am back the next morning, 7:30. I'd been surprised on the mile drive over to see how many people were out at that hour, but at Curves it was just me and Laura, the manager. She takes my measurements, using a scale, a tape measure, and finally a little handheld device like a video game controller that supposedly sent electrical impulses through my palms to measure how much fat was in them. Turns out, my hands are too fat, at least according to some kind of recognized standard. I hadn't known that about my hands specifically, but I could've guessed it, and that's why I was there.
It's early for ABBA, but that's what's playing. Actually, it is a remix, because sometimes ABBA isn't peppy enough. Every half a minute, the music pauses for a friendly female voice to tell us to switch stations. That's how Curves works. You do thirty seconds at a station, which is either a machine or a small square platform. The machines are hydraulics-based, rather than weighted. Laura says that the faster and harder you work at them, the more resistance you get. On the square platforms, which I refer to as SquareMasters in my head, you're supposed to do aerobics. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, when the Zumba lady is there, you follow her, but otherwise you do your own thing: jumping jacks or jogging in place or the can-can or whatever.
Every dozen stations, the voice does a ten-second count so you can take your heart rate. The first time I try to do this, I realize halfway through that I'd been counting the beats in the ABBA remix. When I finally do it right, I am surprised to find how fast my heart is beating, since the activities are so easy. So I guess Curves works. Also, I'm really out of shape.
The workout is two circuits around the room, which takes about a half hour. There are arrows on the squares that point which way to rotate. On Wednesday and Saturdays, they are flipped to point the other way. Laura says that's to switch things up, something about muscle memory. It seems dubious at best, but it could be true.
It's a clever idea, this circuit of strength-training and aerobics. Guided by the stations and the voice, it's a mixture of personal training and setting your own pace. It's a one-size-fits-all kind of place, for Everywoman. Lots of gyms claim to be a judgment-free zone, but the people are so perfectly-formed that you can't help judging yourself next to them. At Curves, I am comparatively young and fit. I certainly am not too old or too fat to be here, though it's possible I am too judgmental.
I feel a little like I am selling myself short here, that I should be at a more ambitious gym, where taut-bodied trainers yell at us to pedal faster, FASTER. Being one of the younger members (under thirty!), the fact that I can actually use the squat machine at all makes me feel like a rock star. You could say it was a gym for real women, with real low expectations. Laura actually tells me not to change my diet for another month, until I get into the habit of exercising, because trying too many new things at once makes you more likely to fail at all of them. Ambitious is not the word for Curves, but after a decade of no regular activity, it's hardly the word for me either.
At the end of my first workout, I am red-faced and sweaty, even though I could've sworn I hadn't really done anything (and nothing for more than thirty seconds). Is it possible that this really works? Laura asks how I like it, and I give her my credit card.
$34 a month. About the price of three cases of sale-priced Stella Artois, as I had figured out when I was preparing to counter Josh's scorn. Laura gave me a scannable keychain with my personal member barcode on one side, and CURVES on the other. I still think Curves is frumpy, and I think about covering up the logo with a sticker that says "NOBEL PRIZE WINNERS CLUB."
That night, I buy a pair of workout pants, because I do not want to wear shorts that bare my unshaven legs in the judgment-free zone. I am oddly excited about having a reason to buy something, even at the Durham Rescue Mission Bargain Center. I try to find something in the giant bins of twenty-five cent clothes, but nothing is quite what I want. As I reject pair after pair of men's pajama pants, I wonder why it matters whether my pants have a fly or are striped. I come to no conclusions, but find a nice soft pair of black cotton pants on the dollar racks and am satisfied.
I go in again the next morning in my freshly-laundered workout pants, and it's just me and Susan, the on-duty manager. Curves is set up to be social - everyone is facing everyone and there's no obvious way for us to compete against each other. As the only set of available ears at the hour, I am expected to chat with Susan, but that's fine. I realize that I am going to meet a bunch of women that I'd never have met otherwise. They even have a group that goes out to lunch on the last Thursday of every month.
Back home, Josh tells me that he is proud of me. I snicker inside at his obvious effort to be supportive. It reminds me of myself when he periodically quits smoking. I tell myself that I see through it, but it still feels nice.
I barely make it in Friday morning, because I stayed up too late Thursday. There are more ladies here today, and I like listening to them and watching them in such a personal setting. Some of them barely move on the SquareMasters and take their time changing stations. Others are focused and driven. You get out what you put in. They take your money either way.
I'm on my fifth station when Susan jumps on a machine two stations behind me, saying that I've got her feeling motivated. I'm not sure how I did that, but good for me/her?
While jogging on a SquareMaster, for just an instant, I feel really, really good. Later I just feel tired, and at the end a bit light-headed. I go home and take a cold shower. The rest of the day, I am more aware of my body than usual. I can feel each individual muscle working, and it makes me feel alive and powerful and young.
The first day, Laura said I probably wouldn't get sore, but that I would feel like I'd done something. And I do, I feel something, as in better than nothing. I'll probably still get the Spanx, but this is something bigger than just a desire to look good for the wedding pictures. Call it a mid-life crisis, because if I kept doing nothing, I am likely to only live to sixty. Plus, I just wasn't happy, and that's a good reason.